Asia-Pacific

Psychiatrist warns against gaming bans

Children need a "healthy digital diet" so the internet doesn't control them, says a Sydney child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Parents worried about their child's internet or video game addiction should not try the cold turkey approach, says an expert.

"I have had parents who have smashed the gaming console - it doesn't work," Dr Philip Tam said.

"I definitely don't advocate getting rid of the computer."

The Sydney child and adolescent psychiatrist spoke to AAP before addressing a session at the annual conference of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in Hong Kong.

"I personally see a large and growing number of kids between 13 and 16 with, what we might call video game addiction, or problematic internet use (PIU)."

They often are referred to him by school counsellors after the kids are falling asleep in classes and their grades are dropping.

He advocates "a healthy digital diet" which ideally should be encouraged from primary school onwards.

This includes setting rules and time limits over computer usage at home and school.

Encourage computer use to be done in a shared social space such as the living room and, importantly, encourage "real world activities" like sports, hobbies and volunteer work.

"A large number of children we are seeing with internet addiction lack those connective things in the real world," Dr Tam said.

PIU almost always flowed from other underlying problems like anxiety, depression or being bullied at school.

Parents should not hesitate in seeking professional help, he advised.

"My rule of thumb is quite simple - are you in charge of your internet usage or is the internet in charge of you?"

If you log in knowing what you are going to do and how much time you will spend there, you are in control.

But if you don't have any set goals or time and log in because you are bored and want to see what comes up, "then I think you are on a losing streak", he said.

"You have lost that healthy balance."

DO NOT COMPUTER TIPS FOR PARENTS:

- Allow unrestricted, unsupervised use, especially late at night

- Monitor use without the child's permission, such as by finding out their password

- Allow them to regularly play games rated beyond their age group

- Assume or hope the issue will go away

- Discuss or address at early stage as entrenched habits are hard to break.

(Source: www.nirra.org.au)

* The writer travelled to Hong Kong courtesy of the RANZCP.

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